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FORD RECALL OMITS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DANGEROUS VEHICLES, DOCUMENTS SAY

Ford Motor Co.'s recall of 8.7 million vehicles left out hundreds of thousands more with ignition switches that could be prone to catching fire, company and government documents suggest.

However, Ford officials said Thursday that large numbers of fire reports in the documents were unsubstantiated."We're confident in the recall population we've gone after," said spokeswoman Francine Romine in Mich-igan.

Last week, Ford said it would replace the ignition switches in 7.9 million vehicles in the United States and 859,000 in Canada. There have been more than 820 reports of fires from the switches in this country, and in some cases fires occurred even when the vehicles were parked and shut off.

Ford and government documents show the recall included most vehicle models with a high number of reported fires. But they also show some model years that were not recalled had a higher rate of fires than many of the vehicles recalled.

The company looked at its 1984 through 1993 vehicles with the same type of ignition switch but did not recall any prior to 1988 because the automaker tied the switch fires to a faulty design change made by a manufacturer in May 1987.

"There's an artificial line drawn," said Richard Schiffrin, a lead lawyer in a class-action lawsuit against Ford. He believes more vehicles should be recalled.

"Some of the vehicles recalled have lower fire rates than the pre-1988 vehicles that were not recalled," added Ralph Hoar, a Virginia consultant for the lawsuit.

For example, the 1986 Town Car has a higher number of reported fires - 19 - and rate of fires per number of vehicles on the road than other vehicles subject to the recall, according to the documents Ford provided to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There also are higher fire rates for the 1986 Aerostar and the 1987 Crown Victoria than for other vehicles in the recall, the documents show. Both those model years were excluded from the recall.

There are about 143,000 1986 Aerostars on the road, about 120,000 1987 Crown Victorias and about 113,000 1986 Lincoln Town Cars, according to Ford estimates.

NHTSA officials applauded Ford's step last week to recall the vehicles. However, the agency did not close its investigation. "We are continuing to ask Ford questions abut the incidents of fire in vehicles that were not recalled," said spokesman Tim Hurd.

A draft of a Jan. 20, 1993, internal Ford memo, first reported Thursday by USA Today, lists "known incidents which are attributed to the ignition switch."

Those include 10 fires verified from on-site inspection or analysis of returned switches on the 1986 Econoline vans, the draft memo says. The Econolines were not part of the recall.

"The document is a three-year-old draft that doesn't reflect any of the testing and analysis we've done for the last three years," Romine said.

The memo also lists confirmed ignition-switch fires in the 1986 Aerostar minivan. An analysis of documents on file at NHTSA shows 1987-1991 Aerostars have the second-highest number of ignition-switch fires and the highest rate of fires of any of the heavier recalled Ford vehicles - pickups, vans, minivans or sport utility vehicles.

The 1986 Aerostar, which is not recalled, has roughly twice the rate of fires per vehicles on the road as the 1988 Aerostar, which was recalled, the documents show.

The recall covers 1988-90 Escorts; 1988-92 and some early 1993 Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Tempos and Mercury Cougars and Topazes; 1988-89 Crown Victorias and Mercury Grand Marquis; 1988-89 Lincoln Town Cars; 1988-91 Aerostar minivans; 1988-91 Bronco sport-utility vehicles and F-series pickups; and 1988 EXPs.